This is one of the simplest of cakes, writes Nikki Duffy. Light but buttery, it needs nothing more than a filling of jam and a sprinkling of sugar to make it perfect for serving with tea or coffee. But it's also an easy matter to dress it up into a glorious dessert, or decorate it for a special occasion.
- Preparation time: 15 minutes
- Cooking time: 20 minutes, plus cooling
- Total time: 35 minutes, plus cooling
- 220g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 220g caster sugar, plus extra for dredging
- 4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
- 220g self-raising flour
- A little milk (optional)
- 4 tbsp strawberry jam
- Preheat your oven to 180°C, gas mark 4 (the temperature at which most cakes are baked). Use a little butter to grease two 20cm-diameter sponge tins.
- A victoria sponge is made by the creaming method; that is, the fat and sugar are creamed or beaten together until light and fluffy before other ingredients are added. It's important to beat the butter and sugar well, as this incorporates lots of air which makes the cake light. Begin with very soft butter, add the sugar and beat with an electric whisk for 2 minutes, until fluffy and pale. You can use a wooden spoon, but it takes some elbow grease.
- Now add the eggs. Beat them lightly first to break them up. Add a quarter of the egg, plus a spoonful of flour and beat until completely incorporated. Adding the egg gradually along with a little flour should stop the mixture curdling, or forming tiny lumps, which can make the cake heavy. Add the remaining egg in the same way.
- Add the remaining flour and fold in with a large metal spoon. Self-raising flour is used because it contains raising agents to give the sponge extra lift. Add a little milk if necessary to achieve dropping consistency - this means a scoop of the mixture will slowly fall off a spoon when held sideways, rather than running off easily, or sticking completely.
- Divide the mixture between the two greased cake tins, smoothing the tops. Put in the oven - preferably on the same shelf - and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes should look well-risen and golden brown, and should have pulled away slightly from the sides of their tins. To make sure the cakes are done, push a metal or wooden skewer into the middle of one. It should come out clean, or with only a few dry crumbs attached. If there's sticky-looking cake mix on it, bake for 5 minutes more, then repeat the test.
- After 10 minutes cooling in the tin, turn the cakes out on to a wire rack (if you turn them out when hot, they may break up). Put the smoothest-looking cake right side up (this will be the top of the finished cake) and the other upside down, so its domed top flattens slightly. Leave to cool completely.
- For a classic victoria sponge, just spread jam over the base sponge, put the second one on top, and dredge with caster sugar.